When the second Sonic came out I don’t recall playing Sonic 1 afterwards. Something about the addition of the spindash made Sonic 1 suddenly feel obsolete to me. Personal preferences aside, after Sonic 1, Naka and team truly hit their stride, but it was not necessarily smooth sailing. Welcome back to Origin of the Series, Sonic in the Genesis Era, Part 2.
For a kid, exclusivity meant conflict. For my part, I never involved myself in the arguments surrounding Mario and Sonic, but I was keenly aware of them as a seven-year old. Over the lunch table lines were drawn and fierce debate swirled over which character, which game, and inherently but never mentioned, which company was better. Today on Origin of the Series, we are going to be focusing on the Genesis Era of Sonic, starting with a brief history of Sega and going through the release of the first game. Welcome Origin of the Series: Sonic in the Genesis Era, Part 1.
The origin story of Sega is rarely straight forward. There are many important dates to consider as an appropriate jumping off point, but for the purposes of brevity, we are going to go to the one that serves as the catalyst for modern-day Sega, 1983. The video game market which by the early 80s encompassed both arcade games and home consoles turned into a bit of a dumpster fire in 1983. At least, in the United States. The market had become saturated, between limitless releases of Atari games, to the other consoles that were flooding the market, including Colecovision and Mattel’s Intellivision system. With too much supply and too little demand, the fall was gargantuan. Mattel suffered tremendous losses, and Atari would need to declare bankruptcy.
How did this effect Sega? Right around the time of the collapse, Sega had just entered the home console market with their SG-1000 console, auspiciously on the same day that Nintendo did with the Famicom. The SG-1000 was an underpowered unit compared to most of the systems, and weaker than the Famicom, but it would be on this that many Sega employees would cut their console programming teeth including Sonic programmer Yuji Naka with his first game titled Girl’s Garden.
Their home console launch notwithstanding, the crash of ’83 spooked Gulf and Western, the company that CEO David Rosen had sold Sega to in the 1970s. Their response was to sell off the American manufacturing divisions of the enterprise. Not willing to let the company completely fall apart, Rosen and Hayao Nakayama, an executive from a Sega acquisition in the late 70s, led a buyout of the rest of the company. Sega came out of the crash as a brand-new company, David Rosen remained Chairman, and Hayao Nakayama became the new CEO.
Sega would release a revision to the SG-1000, the Mark II, the following year. It made up a bit for the lackluster performance of the original SG-1000. It wasn’t until the Mark III, otherwise known as the Sega Master System, that Sega took its first real steps into competing in the console market. Well, baby steps. Sega determined they would need a mascot to compete with Nintendo. Mario, the plumber, created as the protagonist of Donkey Kong when Nintendo had to pivot from making a Popeye game, had risen to immense popularity in both Japan and America. Sega’s first shot at a mascot was a spaceship named Opa-Opa from the game Fantasy World. Doesn’t that seem odd? Yes, it was odd – Sega realized it quickly and moved on to Alex Kidd.
It is silly to feel bad for a digital mascot that never truly existed. Regardless, Alex Kidd’s run as the mascot of Sega is a bit of a downer as the character seemed setup for failure. Maybe the red jumpsuit was too close to Mario’s red overalls, and it was moot, but the first game in the Alex Kidd series looked like a seriously fun experience. It was titled Alex Kidd in Miracle World, and the player guided Alex through his adventures on the planet Radaxian. The gameplay was varied and colorful featuring strange bosses and interesting level designs. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite perform as well as one would hope for the mascot to take on Mario.
The following game reflected the uncertainty Sega had in both the character and the design of the first game. Alex Kidd and the Lost Stars was a traditional platformer with all the elements of the original Alex Kidd that made it interesting stripped away. Following that they stuck Alex into a BMX game, and then a strange game that was a bit of a commercial or Sega. Honestly, this is not an atypical treatment for a mascot. Mario is in all sorts of games, from Donkey Kong to Super Mario Bros, and even appeared as an NPC in games like Punch-Out. The problem was, without a single unifying success to tie the franchise together, Alex Kidd just seemed more and more scattered.
Alex Kidd was shelved, after a few more games, and with the launch of the new Genesis console. Hayao Nakayama still wanted a mascot, and he turned the development of one over to the employees of Sega at large by holding a companywide contest.
After hundreds of submissions, there were a few finalists chosen for the new Sega mascot. And of those, one became the ultimate winner. A rabbit. Not the hedgehog you were expecting, the original winner of the mascot competition was a rabbit submitted by eventual Sonic character designer and Naoto Oshima. With the mascot settled, for now, Oshima paired with programmer Yuji Naka to develop a demo for the new mascot.
Oshima had worked with Naka previously on the Phantasy Star games, some of my personal favorites, and recently Naka had completed work on Ghouls n’ Ghosts, demonstrating that he had the platforming chops needed. Fortuitously, Naka’s most recent project had been cancelled, giving him the bandwidth to work on the new tech demo. Around this time Hirokazu Yasuhara would join the team as the director of the project. He had been en route to joining the Sega Technical Institute in in 1990, however his trip was delayed, and in the meantime, he joined Sega’s AM8 division, now known as Sonic Team.
The rabbit didn’t seem to be working for Naka, Oshima, and Yasuhara. Naka’s technical demo prioritized speed above all else. His inspiration for this was Super Mario Bros. in that there was a definite cap in the speed at which you could clear the level. Naka said in an interview with Retro Gamer Magazine: “Every time I played the first stage, I wondered why I couldn’t clear it faster the better I got playing it.” The rabbit however was envisioned to be able to pick items up with his ears, but the action took too long. In an interview with Sega Visions, Naka mentioned that because speed was important, that they thought a character that could turn itself into a ball would work.
After toying around with an Armadillo character, the other Oshima and Naka settled on a hedgehog, named Sonic. A possibly anecdotal story of the design of the character is that Oshima combined Mickey Mouse and Felix the Cat for the basic sketch. This early version of Sonic had fangs, a human girlfriend named Madonna, and a rock band.
Meanwhile across the Pacific, Sega of America had a new president and CEO. Tom Kalinske, the former CEO of Mattel. Kalinske’s history was primarily in the toy business however his knack for running projects that appealed to kids was unparalleled. Before Mattel Kalinske was responsible for turning a vitamin chewable into Flintstones Vitamins – a product so ubiquitous with its jingles that I am hearing them in my head as a read this. Kalinske was recruited by Mattel after a particularly bright showing while testifying before a Senate subcommittee and became a shining star for the company. In the 1980s, he took over Mattel as CEO.
Internal politics forced him out from Mattel in 1987, and after a brief stint as the chief executive officer of Matchbox, Tom found himself vacationing on a beach. Where Hayao Nakayama, who knew him from Tom’s days at Mattel, found him. After a brief courting period, Hayao successfully recruited Tom.
Tom’s mission at Sega of America was evident – sell the Genesis to the American market. He didn’t have a lot to work with, unfortunately. Until word that Sonic was ready to be shared with SOA by Sega of Japan. When Tom and team received the proposed design, Sega of America had concerns. Primarily that his look wouldn’t appeal to a western audience. Madeline Schroeder, a product manager, was tasked by Kalinske and Marketing Director Al Nilsen to take SOA’s suggestions to the SOJ headquarters. The suggestions: lose the fangs, the girlfriend, and the band. Naka and team hated the idea of losing these features, but after a brief impasse, Nakayama informed Kalinske that the design changes for Sonic were approved.
While the debate over the look was happening, Naka, Oshima, and level designer Hirokazu Yasuhara got to work. Using Naka’s tech demo as a basis, Yasuhara began developing levels that took advantage of the speed of the engine and reached back into an older style of game for inspiration. Pinball. It’s obvious when you think of it, but much of Sonic’s level design was inspired by the way pinball machines would play. This inspiration struck a balance that Yuji Naka was seeking to appeal to both Japanese and American audiences.
Despite the game containing six zones, it was the Green Hill Zone that got probably the most attention of them all – with good reason. Green Hill Zone was the first stage and the one that was needed to convince players to keep playing. First levels of games are fascinating, and there is a lot of good discussions to be had about them. Most importantly they should teach the player how to play and what to expect. Green Hill Zone does this by introducing many of the game’s mechanics, including enemies, traps, and alternate routes. Naka mentions that the iconic design of the level drew its inspiration from the artwork of Eizin Suzuki, as well as the natural beauty of California.
Naka and team worked doggedly to finish the game, most days upwards of 19 hours trying to finish the game. Despite the effort there were several things that needed to be cut from the game, including a two-player mode which would be later found in Sonic 2. and as the approached the finish line, they needed to find the right music. That music came from Masato Nakamura, the leader of the J-pop band Dreams Come True. The limitations of the Genesis sound chip, which could only produce four simultaneous notes, forced Nakamura into creating some of his most memorable work.
During the development of the game SOA worked on creating a marketing plan to use Sonic as a way to gain market share in the US. Following the mantra “the name of the game is the game” originally said by Nintendo’s Peter Main, SOA did what they could to showcase the blazing fast gameplay. Character teases were used at various industry events before the releases. As the game reached completion Al Nilsen orchestrated a tour with the game where he had players compare Sonic to the later Mario Bros game. It was Sega’s version of the Pepsi challenge.
The game was released in June of 1991 and sold well after Sega of America’s marketing campaigns proved fruitful. The edgy marketing attitude that was created for Sonic would carry over to Sega’s marketing strategy because after the release, Sega and Sonic were no doubt synonymous. The game garnered high praise among the gaming press as well. In a review from Gamepro, Sonic scored four screaming heads in four of the five categories, with only sound getting a happy face. Yeah, I know. Reviewer Boogie Man (not this Boogie) wrote that: “[Sonic] shows what programmers, artists, and game designers can do when they set out to produce a winner.”
EGMs review crew gave the game straight 9s out of 10 and one said “if you don’t buy it, it’s because you don’t have a Genesis yet.” What is strange is most reviews are harder on the music of the game with Raze magazine rating the sound an 82 out of 100 in their three-page review. Today the games standing on metacritic which considers all reviews past and present a very promising blank. Soon after the game’s release, Sega of America got the go-ahead to replace Altered Beast as the Pack-In game for the Genesis. The move, though a gamble, allowed Sega to gain ground on Nintendo in the fabled console wars of the early 1990s.
My personal view of the game. Sonic The Hedgehog is a fun platformer with a simple, well executed concept that has let it age with grace. The graphical fidelity of the game remains as sharp as ever, fitting in perfectly with the current renaissance that pixel art is enjoying. As far as the game’s legacy: Sonic The Hedgehog is considered one of the greatest games of all time. The debate becomes, what is the legacy when you consider all that followed? While I can attest of the value of the 16-bit generation of games, the following eras of Sonic were met with rising and falling levels of consistency. The character remains a fan favorite that hangs like a specter of past successes over Sega.
That does it for today’s episode of Origin of the Series. I hope you enjoy the new format, which will feature deeper dives on individual games. The next episode of Origin of the Series will be Part Two of Sonic in the 16-Bit Era. If you enjoyed this video, consider leaving a like and a comment down below. Additionally, if you spot any inaccuracies in the video, please leave a comment on the pinned fact check comment. My sources for this video can be found down below. Thanks for watching everyone! Please remember to subscribe and I will see you in the next video.
The Dark Souls Trilogy is known for its punishing difficulty and fever dream plot. Set in a world where characters fight and claw at the dying of the light, the games have made a lasting impression on gamers far and wide. Today on the Season One Finale of Origin of the Series we are going to examine at how those games came to be, starting with the founding of From Software and venturing forth to present day. Welcome to Origin of the Series: Dark Souls.
By all measures, 1986 was a tremendous year for video games. The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Dragon Quest, Bubble Bobble are just SOME of the games that were released in that year. What also makes 1986 remarkable is that Naotoshi Jin would have a life changing experience that led him to found From Software. That experience was a motorcycle accident that left Jin bedridden while he convalesced. While he was injured he considered what he could do with the money that he received from the insurance that he was paid after the accident, and decided to start a software company. Out of the wreckage of the accident, From Software was born. Initially From Software created business and commercial applications, such as agriculture software that managed pig feed.
Then in 1990 an economic slow-down hit Japan, prompting From Software to begin thinking about ways to diversify or change industries. Several employees within the company had already become interested in 3D modeling and it’s potential application with game design. Jin, despite loving the idea of getting into the gaming industry, was not sold on the hardware capabilities of any current PC or Console. From Software ended up waiting several years, until an opportunity arose in 1994 with the introduction of the Sony PlayStation.
The Sony PlayStation, currently in its fourth generation (fifth if you count the upcoming PlayStation 4 Neo), was something of an oddity born out of a failed partnership with Nintendo. The common method for playing games at the time was via cartridge – the PlayStation eschewed this in favor of more cost effective Compact Discs. Naotoshi Jin and From Software saw an opportunity to get onto the new console, which would be looking for third-party support. The result of this effort was a first-person dungeon crawl RPG titled King’s Field.
King’s Field told the story of a young royal who was looking for his father while dealing with an evil that has been spewing forth from an abandoned cemetery in the land of Verdite. Something I love about the From Software games is that all the kingdom names have a certain chewiness to them. Verdite, Boletaria, Lothric, to name a few. The game was a brutal challenge and featured dark, dank locales that remind one of a lo-fi version of the later Soulsborne games. King’s Field would be released on December 16th, 1994, only 13 days after the original PlayStation went on sale. It was the first RPG to arrive on the new system and was a success in Japan, successful enough to warrant a sequel.
In an interview with Game Informer in late 2015, From Software Managing Director Masanori Takeuchi mentioned that despite the massive success of the Souls games, King’s Field, to him is the most important game that From has released. Not only because it was their first, but because it encapsulates the consistent world view and game design aesthetic that From has been known for since its release in 1994.
King’s Field II would see a release in the United States, and would be titled simply King’s Field. Re-numbering for different markets was customary in the 80s and 90s. Other examples of this happening include the Final Fantasy series which saw Final Fantasy 4 and 6 released in the United States as 2 and 3, as well as Super Mario Bros, which had its sequel retitled as “The Lost Levels” and another game, Doki Doki Panic reskinned to be Super Mario Bros. 2.
Nothing happens in a vacuum and the King’s Field series is evidence of the essence of the Soulsborne games existing within the walls of From Software long before their development. From would continue to the series with two more King’s Field games, but their attention in the late 90s and early 00s shifted from dark dungeons to massive mechs with the Armored Core series, which is where Hidetaka Miyazaki would get his start.
If you talk to Hidetaka Miyazaki today and asked him what his influences are, he would have a laundry list of books, manga, and more. Among those he readily lists are Devilman and Berserk, as well as works by George R.R. Martin and Umberto Eco. He also keeps RPG rule books close at hand. That is today, but as a child, he lived a very different literary experience. Miyazaki was born in a poor family and as a child, rarely had the opportunity to purchase books. This led to him finding his way to the library, which he would use to borrow books that were often somewhat above his reading comprehension.
Whenever he came to a passage that he couldn’t understand, Miyazaki would often use his imagination to fill in the gaps in the story. When he grew up he attended Keio University where he obtained a Social Sciences degree. Miyazaki sums up his childhood this way: ““Unlike most kids in Japan, I didn’t have a dream. I wasn’t ambitious.” We are all our own harshest critic, but I can certainly relate to Miyazaki’s feeling of aimlessness as a youth. Discovering passion can sometimes take time, and for Miyazaki it would be a few more years. After attending University he landed a job at Oracle working as a typical salaryman job of Account Manager. He would work there for several years.
It wasn’t until he met up with some friends from University that Miyazaki’s life began to find the spark that he had felt was missing. One of his friend’s suggested that he check out the game Ico. For those of you unaware, Ico is the first game by the team that created Shadow of the Colossus and The Last Guardian and puts the player in control of a boy named Ico as he attempts to escape a castle with a princess named Yorda. The game, much like the subsequent games that Team Ico has created relies in minimalist design and 3D puzzle solving.
Playing the game awoke something in Miyazaki. He began to applying for jobs at game studios across Japan and eventually was accepted by one. From Software. As part of his early duties for the company, Miyazaki would find himself directing sequels for the companies somewhat popular Armored Core series. After several years wrangling Mechs, an opportunity arose within the company, and it was a perfect match for Miyazaki.
Demon’s Souls was the first game that From Software collaborated with a publisher on, as well as the first game that they had the intention of a world-wide release for. Per Masanori Takeuchi, the project initially started around 2004 or 2005 as an attempt to create a new game that had the same game design philosophy as King’s Field. The game however was a failed project. Which, Miyazaki thought was a perfect opportunity. In an interview with The Guardian, he said this about it: “I figured if I could find a way to take control of the game I could turn it into anything I wanted. Best of all, if my ideas failed, nobody would care—it was already a failure.” Unfortunately, the project was floundering. Miyazaki’s work and leadership completely revamped the game. However, as a game on the precipice of failure, it launched with very low expectations, especially after a poor showing at the Tokyo Game Show.
Demon’s Souls had poor initial sales and a lack of support from its publisher. Sony head of WW Shuhei Yoshida thought due to the game’s challenging nature, the game was unbelievably bad. Because of this they passed on publishing the game in North America and Europe. Demon’s Souls though found itself in a strong lineage of games, like prior Origin of the Series subjects: Civilization and The Elder Scrolls, that vaulted into cult status based on a strong word of mouth campaign.
Hardcore gamers in North America found themselves importing the game across the Pacific, and eventually the overwhelming urge for the game prompted Atlus to pick up the publishing for North America, and Bandai-Namco to publish the game for Europe and Australia. With a global market finally available for the game, it thrived as a title that enticed gamers looking for something new and challenging. In a testament to the games popularity, the servers hosting the online portion of the gameplay have remained online well beyond the planned shutdown date in 2011.
The story of Demon’s Souls is somewhat more straight forward than later games. It centers on the Kingdom of Boletaria which has become enshrouded in a hellish fog after its ruler, King Allant conducted a dark ritual to gain more power. The ritual unleashed The Old One, as these rituals tend to go, the fog, and legions of demons into the kingdom. Knights from neighboring kingdoms have often attempted to broach the fog to never return. Your character is a plucky knight who managed to breach the fog and even make his or her way deep into the castle before coming upon a demon called The Vanguard. This is one of those planned death things.
From there, your soul awakens in the Nexus, and you are told you can never leave. You can get your body back however. From the Nexus, you can travel to different parts of the kingdom to take on hordes of evil that are infesting the kingdom.
Demon’s Souls features a combat system that feels like future Soulsborne games. Caution, defense, and timing are all paramount as you face off against enemies that can kill you with a well-placed combo. My personal feeling having replayed a bit of Demon’s Souls after extended sessions wish Dark Souls 3 was that the difficulty while an extreme challenge, is not quite the white-knuckle experience that later games would be.
In an interview with Game Informer, Miyazaki stated that he doesn’t like using the word “difficult” and that difficulty isn’t the true goal. Instead that he wants the players to feel a sense of accomplishment when they overcome obstacles. “The element of failure… was necessary to give players a sense of accomplishment.” In that same article, written back in November of 2009, Miyazaki hedged on whether there would be a sequel to Demon’s Souls stating, “he’s just an employee at a company” but that he would like to have another chance to implement the things he learned on Demon’s Souls.
Miyzaki did not have to wait long to get his chance at improving upon the concepts of Demon’s Souls. The next game, Dark Souls would be disconnected however and a brand-new IP, giving From a chance to select a new publisher for the game. When the game was first announced, From played coy with the details, only teasing a logo and a title, “Project Dark” no doubt the internal project name for the game. The game made its formal announcement with title and details in February of 2011. The intriguing thing that changed between the initial tease and the wide announcement, other that the title, was the games exclusivity. Originally planned as a PS3 exclusive, the game was also announced for Xbox.
Despite looking and playing similarly, there were a number of key differences between Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls. The hub model would be deemphasized, and in its place a more seamless world. Soul tendency, a function in Demon’s Souls would not be making the leap into the new franchise. Another difference is the difficulty, or out of respect for Miyazaki, challenge. Miyazaki and team wanted Dark Souls to be much more challenging than the previous game. A quote from the game’s producer Daisuke Uchiyama is telling. “We want the players to scream, yell and be frustrated.” Not as eloquent as Miyazaki and Takeuchi espousing that the theme is the sense of accomplishment of overcoming obstacles, but just as accurate.
The story of Dark Souls is very minimalist. It would be unfair to say that it’s shallow though. The plot of Dark Souls is like a rabbit hole. On the surface it doesn’t seem like much but once you start going down you become surprised at how far you’ve traveled and you have really no other choice but to reach the bottom. I’m not going to go into the lore here, there are several channels that have thorough recaps of the lore. I will link a few in the description below. The brief version is that a long time ago dragons ruled the land and everything was gray and undying. There was no disparity. Then from the depths of the earth came a fire, giving power to the humanoids who dwelled there. Among those that took power included Gwyn, and he and his fellow lords strike down the dragons, bringing life and death, darkness and light to the world. When Dark Souls starts, it is now much, much later and the initial fire is going out. And when it does, the world will be plunged into darkness. Bad times.
It only took one week for Dark Souls to outsell its predecessor, positioning From Software further into the realm of high level developers.
When Dark Souls II was announced at the Spike Video Game Awards back in 2012 there was much excitement around getting another entry into the Souls-verse. Excitement for some fell away to consternation though as it was eventually revealed that Hidetaka Miyazaki would not be the lead for the project, only acting in an advisory role. Instead, the game would be handed over to the founder of From Software himself, Naotoshi Jin. Some fans posited dismay at what they were considering to be the From Software “B” team, a somewhat harsh assessment of the crew that created the sequel.
There were some rumors though that started to bubble up. One of the gaming blogs I perused during my research phase even had a post around the time that wondered whether Miyazaki was working on another huge project and couldn’t commit to Dark Souls 2. This would turn out to be correct.
Dark Souls 2 was designed with the same philosophy as the previous titles. The game’s director Yui Tanimura started in an interview that he felt this was two fold: first the sense of accomplishment in overcoming challenging obstacles, and second, the indirect connection with other players in that sense of accomplishment. On that second point part of the team’s goal was to create a stronger bond between the players they struggle through the game. From Software tried to remain very sensitive to not changing the core of the game, however they understood that things needed to change in the sequel. Tanimura in the same interview mentioned that: “…if we try to keep everything the same, this prevents us being able to provide a new experience and world to the players.”
On March 11th, 2014, the game was released to massive critical acclaim. It has gone on to sell nearly 3 Million copies world wide and won numerous game of the year awards. With the success of Dark Souls II, From Software was riding high in prestige and value. They would be acquired by the Kadokawa Corporation in May of 2014, and a corporate reshuffling took place. Naotoshi Jin, who just designed a tremendous success in Dark Souls II would step down from the company he founded and into an advisor role. Hidetaki Miyazki, would take his place. The following month, in June of 2014 at E3, fans of the Souls series would discover why Miyazaki was absent on Dark Souls II main crew list with the announcement of a brand new IP, Bloodborne.
Bloodborne is similar to the Dark Souls games, in some aspects, different in others. The setting of the game is more similar to a Victorian era England as opposed to an King Arthur Meets the Upside Down medieval fantasy. The development for Bloodborne began while From was putting the finishing touches on Dark Souls: Prepare to Die edition, and ran in parallel to Dark Souls II. Prior to the announcement of the game, footage of gameplay had leaked online with the title “Project Beast” attached to it, which led to some speculation as to what From had been working on.
Bloodborne, a PS4 exclusive was also a massive success for From Software. Though it didn’t have the cross-platform exposure of the other Souls games, it still did exceptionally well, selling over 2 million copies.
Rewinding a bit, it’s interesting to realize how busy From Software must have been in 2013. Development of Dark Souls II and Bloodborne was ongoing, and then suddenly, Dark Souls III materialized with Miyazaki pulling double duty to finish Bloodborne, and begin the process of getting Dark Souls III of the ground. Miyazaki has been saying for quite some time that he views Dark Souls III as a turning point for both the franchise and for From Software. Often when people think of that phrase they assume that something is going from good to bad, or vice versa, but in this case Miyazaki simply meant change. Dark Souls III would be the last game he would work on as a game designer and not a game designer-slash-president.
Dark Souls III for some is seen as taking the best elements of the original game, as well as Bloodborne and finding a balance. Combat was a lot more aggressive in Bloodborne but in the Souls games, aggressive play was often foolish. Dark Souls 3 still espoused being somewhat conservative when it game to attack but allowed the player a little bit more room to act. Despite this, the game was as challenging as ever.
Much like in the previous games, Miyazaki didn’t think in a scale of difficulty, but rather “unreasonableness.” While this may seem like a semantic difference, I can understand what he means. The famously difficult level in Battletoads isn’t simply difficult, but also unreasonable. The expectation of having to develop such muscle memory to execute in such a perfect manner is unreasonable. On the flip side, Dark Souls III presents you as the player with an opportunity to overcome a tremendous challenge, and to learn how to overcome that challenge when you die.
Dark Souls III ends the trilogy and the current story. The storyline is as vague and difficult to grasp as ever, but the elements needed to make sense of the three games are there for those willing to look. Something that I read in an interview with Miyazaki was very intriguing when it comes to Miyazaki’s relationship with plot. As I mentioned earlier, Miyazaki would often fill in the gaps of stories he couldn’t comprehend with his own imagination. In an article for The Gaurdian, which featured an interview with Miyazaki, writer Simon Parkin wrote: “…the story is hazy. You, like young Miyazaki, must fill in the blanks with your imagination, co-authoring the narrative…”
When coupled with the idea that Miyazaki has a “most correct” story for the Dark Souls games in mind, with all the different endings, yet doesn’t share what that is, it suddenly gives you a satisfying picture of Miyzaki’s overall design aesthetic.
Dark Souls III, like the previous games has been another critical and financial success for From Software. While Miyazaki intends it to be the last in the series, he would not dismiss the idea of another From Software designer asking to pick the series back up in another ten years. Miyazaki, for his part, has completed the trilogy. For fans of his though, he assures that despite now being president of the company, he will remain a presence in the game design process and that From software already has new IPs in the work, as well as a return to an old one, Armored Core.
This episode is different than previous episodes because of the relative freshness of the series. To assign a legacy to the Dark Souls games would be a little premature. So on that note, I’ll end on a quote from Miyazaki himself:
“To be honest, I’m really not interested on how I’m viewed as. The only thing I’m interested in is to keep creating something special.”
Thanks for watching everybody. I will be leaving a list of the sources that I used to put this video together in the description below. If you enjoy this type of content, please consider leaving a like, comment and subscribing to the channel. As always, if you find something that is factually incorrect about the video please point it out in the pinned comment down below. Eventually I will be doing a corrections video on my first season of Origin of the Series. This officially ends the first season of Origin of the Series, I don’t have a date planned quite yet for Season Two but follow me on twitter @spoilerkevin and I’m sure I’ll be making an announcement there soon enough.
But that is all for today, and until next time, take care everyone.
If you strictly compared the map sizes of Morrowind and Daggerfall, you would think that the series took a significant step backward. But size truly matters not when it comes to creating a memorable experience. As we said Daggerfall was huge – possibly even too big. It was also procedurally generated. What it had in scope, it lacked in story and theming. Morrowind was different.
Morrowind entered the concept phase during the development of Daggerfall, and at that time it was going to be created in a very similar fashion. However, it was determined that with Battlespire and Redguard needing more staff and the technology not being available yet, Morrowind would be put off for a spell.
When Bethesda returned to Morrowind, the thinking was that it would not be another game simply like Daggerfall, it would be redesigned from the ground up. Every inch of Morrowind was designed with intention. What resulted was a much more immersive, and satisfying experience than Daggerfall had to offer. Don’t get me wrong, Daggerfall is still a great game and tremendous achievement, but Morrowind’s intentional design made it instantly the best game in the series.
Morrowind marks the first main Elder Scrolls game that Todd Howard lead the development for. His lead designer for the project was Ken Rolston, representing a complete change of leadership for the franchise. Although Ted Petersen was no longer with the company, he still made his presence felt by contributing much of the text you find in books and poems throughout the game.
Morrowind is also the first entry in The Elder Scrolls for someone who is nearly impossible to imagine the games without, Jeremy Soule. Soule’s score for Morrowind gave the game a depth and character that was not present in the previous titles. Jeremy has continued to make his indomitable musical presence felt in the rest of the series.
Quite possibly the most important thing for the longevity of the series though was the introduction of The Construction Set during the development of the game. The Construction Set allowed the developers to quickly iterate and add new content to the game. It would be this tool that would be available for the gaming community to create new mods for the game, which enhanced and elongated the staying power of both Morrowind and the rest of the series to come.
The game was a critical and financial success for Bethesda, a big part of that was the agreement to publish it for the Xbox where a majority of the games sales would come from. The game was also validation for Todd Howard’s new vision for the direction of the games that he would manage.
Daggerfall was intended to have expansion packs, however as we have discussed they were spun off into their own games. Morrowind was the first entry into the Elder Scrolls series to have true expansion packs and because of development of The Construction Set, they were relatively easy to create. The development of Tribunal lasted five months, starting on the day that Morrowind was released.
Tribunal was set in within the city of Mournhold, which was not accessible from the main Morrowind map, players would have to teleport there. The storyline continues to tell the tale of the Tribunal deities.
Tribunal also made some other cosmetic improvements to the game, and the overall reviews were positive. The second expansion was called Bloodmoon which had development started the day of Tribunals release – just as Tribunal was with Morrowind’s release. Unlike Tribunal however, Bloodmoon actually expanded the main map of the game to include a new island, which players felt added more to the free form feel of the vanilla game. Reviews were mixed however on the added Lycanthropy element.
The Elder Scrolls series can be probably divided into two groups. Before Morrowind and after Morrowind. Before, you have Arena, Daggerfall, Battlespire and Redguard. They were games that all had value, especially Arena and Daggerfall, but had yet to put the entire “package” together.
Morrowind and its expansion packs were the first big step in the direction of creating a complete experience. In terms of crossover mainstream appeal, Oblivion was the next step. Todd Howard mentioned in an interview that when he would look at the forums, there would be only a certain amount of people discussing Morrowind at any given time, and that when Oblivion came out, that number jumped quite significantly. It’s more of an anecdotal appraisal of the games popularity, but the observation does bear out when you see that Oblivion’s a few million more copies than Morrowind. (vgchartz.com)
Oblivion entered production as soon as Morrowind was published. While half of the Elder Scrolls dev team worked on the expansions to Morrowind, the other half started its work on Oblivion with Ken Rolston and Todd Howard steering the ship once again.
In a trend that started with Daggerfall, Oblivion was not so much a sequel, but another game taking place in the same world. Oblivion would take place after Morrowind, but the player character and location would be completely different. Howard’s stated goal for the game was to take a look at what worked and what didn’t work for Morrowind and try to make adjustments for the next entry but to also take risks, something that he felt emboldened by doing on Morrowind. An “RPG for the Next Generation” he called it, in a blog post on the now defunct Elder Scrolls website, a web archive link will be in the description below (https://web.archive.org/web/20070320172701/http://www.elderscrolls.com/codex/team_rpgnextgen.htm).
One of the anecdotal criticisms of Oblivion I have seen around the web was that it was “dumbed down.” While that is a more subjective opinion, it may be based in the truth that during the design of the game, Howard stated that the game would be more focused. The game while overall larger than Morrowind, would end up having fewer NPCs and Quests in favor of more meaningful NPCs and longer quests with more variety in them. This lines up with the philosophy that they took with Morrowind, which did not have the grand size of Daggerfall in favor of more meaningful interaction. Not all may agree, but it does seem consistent. One major change, at least for Oblivion only, was the return to procedurally generated landscape. The design team used procedural generation and then hand sculpted the finer details into the game.
Technically, Oblivion, like Morrowind before it, stretched the capabilities of the machines that could run it, but Bethesda did a much better job giving players control over the graphics settings so that a wider variety of computers could play it. The game also shipped with an updated version of The Construction Kit. Additionally, an Elder Scrolls game was ported over to a Sony console, the PS3, for the first time.
The game was another critical and financial success, as mentioned previously it would become the best-selling game in the series, outpacing Morrowind’s numbers. The sharpest criticisms for the game came against the voice work, which included many high profile names, like Patrick Stewart and Lynda Carter, but would feel repetitive as the player progressed. The game would go on to win a number of game of the year and other industry awards.
Prior to Oblivion, most additional content for games came in the form of big, bundled expansion packs. Think of the expansions for Morrowind, or even going back to the expansions for Wolfenstein 3D and Doom. (Both of which, ironically, are published by Bethesda now!) Oblivion took a different approach. While it did have expansions, and we will get to those in a moment, the initial release saw the use of small DLC for a minor price. Not all things were priced appropriately though.
Horse armor, it all started with horse armor on April 3rd, 2006. The horse armor, which provided the player’s horse a set of armor, cost $2.50. Players were none too happy with the price of what seemed to be a minor addition to the game and Bethesda listened. Following content would be released at a lower price with more content, including new quests and new homes for the player character.
Morrowind’s content expansion packs were clearly defined as such, but Oblivion’s first official one existed in a bit of a roundabout way. Initially it was rumored that there would be no official “expansions” to Oblivion as had been done in the past. Only a focus on the micropayment DLC. Suddenly however an expansion, titled Knights of Nine began to hit the rumor mills. Initially billed as a PS3 exclusive, the expansion came to all platforms and added a new faction to the mix. However unlike other types of expansions, the new content didn’t call itself out, the player would have to discover it.
Knights of Nine added more mission content to the game, but didn’t expand the map like previous Morrowind expansions had. Shivering Isles, the next expansion, would however by introducing the titular isles by way of a gate that the player had to pass through. Shivering Isles was also well received.
With all previous Elder Scrolls games, work on the following game started when the previous one was released. This time however, Todd Howard and company were focused on something different. Bethesda had acquired Interplay, the company responsible for the Fallout series and set out to work on Fallout 3. I won’t go into too much detail because the history of the Fallout series will be covered in another video that I have planned. Let’s just say that Fallout 3 was hotly anticipated from legions of fans that had been teased and tortured by screenshots of vaporware as well as games like Brotherhood of Steel that failed to capture the essence of the original games.
Fallout 3 made it through a relatively brief development cycle, brief when compared to Morrowind and Oblivion. When Fallout 3 was released in 2008, development of Skyrim began in full. Howard, with lessons learned from both Fallout 3 and Oblivion got to work with changes that he had in mind. Oblivion had returned to some of the procedural generation that was used to develop Arena and Daggerfall, but Skyrim, like Morrowind would once again abandon that method of landscaping. In fact, it would not be crazy to say that Skyrim takes what worked best of Morrowind and Fallout 3, and used those ideals to develop a new Elder Scrolls Game.
The plot of Skyrim takes place 200 years after Oblivion and begins with your character in a dire situation, much like the opening of the other Elder Scrolls game. Your player is about to be executed for unknown, possibly non-existent crimes. Just before the execution a dragon, which will be revealed to be the dragon Alduin interrupts and kills just about everyone. You escape, and eventually make your way to the city of Whiterun and after slaying a dragon alongside the city guard, absorb its power and reveal yourself to be a Dragonborn, one that can take the souls of Dragons.
The art direction of Skyrim sets it far apart from Oblivion. Art director Matt Carofano said in an interview with Game Informer that the typical fantasy style of Oblivion would not work in Skyrim, which is a colder, harsher world inhabited by the Nords. The phrase he uses to describe it is epic reality, meaning that wherever you go in the world of Skyrim, you have a sense of amazement at what you are walking through.
One of the big changes in terms of game play, and possibly an inspiration from working on Fallout, was doing away with Character class. In Fallout, players can develop their character’s abilities however they wish by way of assigning perks and through the distribution of the SPECIAL attributes. In Skyrim, it works in somewhat of a similar way, without the inclusion of SPECIAL. Instead, each race provides a particular bonus, which you can use to your advantage when rolling a new character.
Skyrim received critical acclaim despite, like most Elder Scrolls games, or any game of such breadth, a certain amount of bugginess. Skyrim is the bestselling Elder Scrolls game to date and won numerous game of the year awards from media outlets across the globe. It is estimated that the game has sold 22.7 million copies worldwide.
Skyrim like Morrowind and Oblivion had multiple expansion packs, but some of the best additions to Skyrim came from the modding community. Mods like Requiem added a level of realism to the game while Endereal added expansion level content. I spoke with my friend Belmont Boy about the Skyrim modding community.
Whew! This was a long one, before we go, let’s talk a little bit about the future of the Elder Scrolls series, and its legacy. There is not a whole lot of information about what the next Elder Scrolls game has in store, no release date or location have been confirmed. If Bethesda has a pattern though, it is that they being work on their next big thing after the last big thing has been released. With the introduction of Fallout on the docket, I can imagine that pre-production of the next TES game only started with Fallout 4’s release in late 2015.
The matter of that pre-production though is uncertain. Todd Howard himself said “Of course we are making it…it’s a long way off.” Now as I did in the last video, I’m going to turn to my panel to see what their take on the legacy of The Elder Scrolls series is.
Thank you so much for joining me in the third episode of Origin of the Series. I will be deciding on the next episode shortly, so stay tuned for that. If you enjoyed this video, please like, comment, subscribe and share! I will be putting the sources of the video in the description down below. Check out my previous episodes of Origin of the Series, and I will see you guys, next time.
Arena. Daggerfall. Morrowind. Oblivion. Skyrim. The games of the Elder Scrolls series are loved by many. They are games of great scope, of gods and mortals. But they are also personal, and carry great thematic meaning to the player. Today on Origin of the Series, we are going to go through the history of The Elder Scrolls, from before the founding of Bethesda to Skyrim and beyond. As always, I have a few guests joining me to speak about the impact the series has had on them. Welcome to Origin of the Series: The Elder Scrolls.
Chris Weaver wore many hats before founding Bethesda. He was what he considered to be a technology forecaster for the TV and cable industry. In that role Weaver held positions with ABC, the National Cable Television Association and even Congress, working for the House Subcommittee on Communications. It was there that he did minor things like help break up the telephone monopoly.
When he moved back into the private sector he created his own media consulting firm, called Media Technology. One of Weaver’s employees, an engineer by the name of Ed Fletcher, had the idea that Media Technology should expand into video games. Specifically, he wanted to create a football video game, something that Weaver wasn’t terribly familiar with. However, Weaver was an expert on something extremely critical to understanding sports gaming. Physics.
The result was the first Football Video game to use real physics called “Gridiron!” and Bethesda Softworks was born. The name comes directly from the town the company was founded in, Bethesda, Maryland. In the early days, the principals were Weaver, Fletcher, and a Danish programmer named Benni Jensen, but Elder Scrolls fans know him better as Julian Lefay.
Electronic Arts, was interested in the way Gridiron worked and contracted Bethesda to develop the first John Madden Football. Bethesda would not end up completing the programming- but the underlying physics engine belonged to the work that Weaver and Fletcher created for Gridiron.
The young company left EA to the football simulations and shifted focus to Ice Hockey. They worked with the Hockey community and legends like Bobby Orr to create their next series of games which featured Wayne Gretzky on the cover. Eventually, Weaver and Bethesda began work on their first nonsports game, which was a movie to game adaptation of The Terminator. Weaver says that the focus on sports wasn’t intentional, but because of the real-time physics tools they had created they were looking for as many areas to apply them as they could.
Jack Chick, the infamous author of the heavy handed fundamentalist Christian comic strips known as Chick Tracts, died in 2016. He believed that Dungeons and Dragons, and roleplaying, was the path to hell and damnation. Thankfully the developers working at Bethesda Softworks were unfazed by the father of the satanic panic’s proclamations of fire and brimstone. Because in the early 90s, staff at Bethesda held a weekly Dungeons and Dragons game which they had set in a world very familiar to Elder Scrolls players. Tamriel.
Arena is the first entry in the Elder Scrolls series. As a game, it doesn’t have the grand scope of Daggerfall or the growing 3D polish that entries Morrowind and beyond would receive, but it was one of the earlier first person RPGs to have that kind of scale. However, the game didn’t begin its life as an RPG. Initially, the game was true to its title, functioning as a Medieval-style gladiator combat simulator. As the player you built a team of fighters and took them from city to city, tournament to tournament until you reached the grand stage of them all, fighting in Imperial City.
The designers of the game were Ted Petersen and Vijay Lakshman, with the project being spearheaded by Julian Lefay. According to Ted, the story was that there was an evil wizard that you needed to fight at the end of the game when you reached Imperial City. Gradually they began adding side-quests that you could do in each town. Then came the dungeons. Eventually, the idea of there being a tournament vanished from the story, as the role-playing side-quests and dungeon diving became the primary focus.
The game had evolved from a first person fighting game to a hard-core D&D inspired RPG over the course of development, but the name Arena remained. Why? The story in the “lore” is that the land of Tamriel was so violent that it had been nicknamed “The Arena.” However, the real reason was that they had already printed up a bunch of boxes and materials with the name Arena on it and it was too costly to change the name. Vijay is credited with giving it the series title “The Elder Scrolls” mainly because it was vague enough that they could work with it without having to develop much more story.
The story of the finished game went like this. Uriel Septim’s battlemage Jagar Tharn used the Staff of Chaos to imprison Uriel in an alternate dimension and take the Septim’s place on the throne in disguise. Your player character works for the Emperor (ostensibly, this is not made crystal) alongside a character named Ria. The two of you attempt to expose Jagar but are thwarted. Jagar kills Ria and imprisons your player character in the dungeon. Ria’s ghost helps you get free and teleports you to your home province where you must begin your quest to piece together the now shattered Chaos Staff and rescue Uriel Septim.
The game featured a character creation system which allowed you to select your character’s gender, class, and home province. The map in the game features all the ones we’ve come to know and love, such as Skyrim, Morrowind, Hammerfell, and so forth. While the size of the map is smaller than later iterations, especially Daggerfall, the scope of the game is immense given the game’s historical context.
The release of Arena begins a thread of tenuous existence for the franchise that doesn’t truly develop into a sturdy rope until Morrowind. The game missed its holiday of 1993 release window and ended up coming out in March 1994, which was considered to be one of the worst times of the year to release at the time.
Additionally, distributors were not thrilled that the game did not resemble the original gladiator action game pitch. Thankfully for Elder Scrolls fans everywhere, the game spread by word of mouth and became, in Ted Petersen’s words, a minor cult hit. The next year, Bethesda would re-release the game on CD-Rom as the Elder Scrolls: The Arena Deluxe and testing that would be Todd Howard’s introduction into The Elder Scrolls world.
Let’s hear from one of our panel members about their impressions and thoughts about the first game in the series: Arena.
Todd Howard has been firmly rooted in geek culture his entire life. As a kid he loved Star Wars and gaming, specifically spending a lot of time in games like Ultima which would eventually have an influence on the Elder Scrolls series. While Howard was in college at William and Mary, he spent much of his time teaching himself programming and playing video games when he wasn’t in classes earning a Finance degree. Todd actually mentions that William and Mary is a terrific school and that he, unfortunately, did not take advantage of that fact.
While playing one of Bethesda’s Wayne Gretzky Hockey games, Todd noticed the address for their offices were way home from college, so during Christmas break, he boldly stopped at the headquarters and asked for a job. Though rejected, Todd continued to pester Bethesda for work each time he encountered representatives for the company, including at expos like CES. Eventually, his perseverance paid off, and Bethesda hired him in 1994. Todd’s first games as a designer were in the Terminator franchise that Bethesda had been producing since before Arena and then he was pulled in to assist on Daggerfall as a new designer.
With Arena out the door and achieving minor cult hit status, attention turned to the inevitable sequel, Daggerfall. Over the course of two years, Ted Petersen and Julian Lefay wrote the story while consuming many influences. Ted’s stated goal was to make the world of Tamriel less generic. New influences included additional bits of Dungeon’s and Dragons, but also the pen and paper version of Vampire: The Masquerade as well as the Alexandre Dumas classic “The Man in the Iron Mask.” Whereas Arena had been influenced heavily by other games, such as Darklands, Legends of Valor, and Ultima Underworld, Daggerfall was influenced more by the pen and paper, and literary sources.
Daggerfall was ambitious. The game had large portions of procedurally generated landscape and came out to be approximately 62,000 square miles. Arena’s map technically didn’t have any boundaries, therefore was undefinable, and travel between provinces was only available on the fast travel map. Daggerfall though was designed to be one continuous map over parts of High Rock and Hammerfell. For years it held the record as the largest game until No Man’s Sky procedurally generated it right into second place.
All that ambition came at a price, however. Daggerfall had numerous bugs at launch, and many of the features that the designers wanted in the game were never fully implemented. Ted Petersen mentions that the intent was to have warring factions that actually having real world consequences, like seeing cities under siege. The sieges, as well as dragons were left on the cutting room floor of the game because of technical and time limitations.
Reading preview articles from old gaming magazines is an enjoyable past time for me. Something about the optimism married boundless speculation is charming, especially when you know the outcome. One found in NEXT Generation Magazine proclaimed that if Daggerfall were able to put all the pieces that they had in motion into place for the release of the game, then Daggerfall would be the “best role-playing game ever made.” While I don’t believe Daggerfall is in the consideration, it is a truly remarkable experience. By the game’s release in 1996 however, there was some pushback from the gaming press. Computer Gaming World put Daggerfall as one of the top “vaporware” titles of all time.
Strange that being delayed a few years in the mid-90s was enough to earn the title of vaporware, whereas presently, game delays are met with groans but not enough to deem a game vaporware. See The Last Guardian, and No Man’s Sky as examples.
Despite the success of the game, the goodwill earned by Arena was dissipated by the bug-ridden Daggerfall. Things would get worse before they got better for Bethesda.
Sales took a bit of a decline for Bethesda after Daggerfall. Daggerfall’s follow-ups were not met with the same enthusiasm, or sales, that Daggerfall initially had garnered. Follow up games that used Daggerfall’s code included Battlespire and Redguard. Battlespire was the first and was considerably pared down compared to Daggerfall. A lot of the free-roaming exploration that made Daggerfall the game that it was tossed for a focus on combat and very specifically designed dungeons.
Battlespire wasn’t met with particular enthusiasm. Like the game it was based on, it launched with bugs and was found to be a tepid entry into the Elder Scrolls gaming catalog. It sold poorly, as did the next game, Redguard. Redguard was played entirely from the third-person point of view, which until that point was not available in The Elder Scrolls games.
Bethesda was nearly bankrupt, so Chris Weaver made a bold move and founded a new company with Robert Altman named ZeniMax Media, and then moved Bethesda into it from its original shell of Media Technology. The move saved Bethesda’s existence from an untimely end, but at the expense of Chris Weaver’s position in the company. He moved from CEO to CTO in favor of Altman, but within a few years, he would find himself out of the company that he founded.